International Symposium on Human Rights in Islam

The Symposium met in Rome from 25 to 27 February, 2000 at the Islamic Cultural Center hosted by the Muslim World League of Makkah in Saudi Arabia.

Almost 200 delegates from 43 countries participated in the Symposium. Among them were representatives of Islamic and human rights organizations, other governmental, cultural and religious representatives, scholars, as well as legal experts.

The purpose of the Symposium was to review progress on human rights throughout the world in both an Islamic and broader historical context and to propose improvements to existing legislation and international declarations and charters. The devastating human effects of war are all too apparent in today’s world, as witnessed by events in the Middle East, Kashmir, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, Chechnya, and many other parts of Europe, Asia and Africa. Islam, a religion founded on human rights and the duties of individuals, and shared by tens of millions of believers throughout the world, has a major contribution to make to the international human rights debate.

In his message to the Symposium, Kofi Annan, Secretary General of the United Nations, stated: Human rights are the expression of those traditions of tolerance in all cultures that are the basis of peace and progress. Human rights, properly understood and justly interpreted, are foreign to no culture and native to all nations. He then went on to refer to Imam Ali, the fourth Khalifa after Prophet Muhammed (Peace be upon him) who: instructed the governor of Egypt to rule with mercy and tolerance towards all his subjects for your subjects are your brothers in religion or your equals in creation.

Five working sessions were held over the three days of the Symposium. Thirteen papers were presented. These addressed three key issues related to human rights. The first of these was human rights as expressed through constitutions, conventions, and charters. The second was human rights and major issues, while the third was Islamic applications of human rights. The individual papers addressed: human rights and development; human rights and major issues; human rights between theory and practice; human rights in Islamic teachings; the Islamic perspective of human rights and duties; the Islamic viewpoint on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; methods of evidence and confession in Islamic Law; the right to self-defence by the accused in Islam; women’s rights in Islam; children’s rights in Islam; Islam and human rights: a western viewpoint; the rights of non-Muslims in Islamic States; and the rights of Muslim minorities in western societies.

Having examined the contents of current conventions, delegates concluded that these were, in essence, inadequate in dealing with human rights and in satisfying people’s changing needs.

The Symposium called upon the world’s governments, as well as international organizations, to carry out an objective review of international declarations and conventions on human rights in order to close certain loopholes and render then more consistent with current realities.

Governments were also urged to take account of the following principles that the Symposium felt were integral to guaranteeing human rights:

Human rights should respect religious beliefs and values ordained by God through his prophets and apostles

Rights should be linked to duties, balancing man’s functions and needs to build a family and society and inhabit the earth in a manner that does not contravene God’s will

Non-governmental organizations can make an important contribution in efforts to revise conventions and principles of human rights

Dialogue between different cultures and civilisations should be encouraged as a means of promoting a better understanding of human rights, protecting mankind against the horrors of armed conflict

Every effort should be made to eliminate discrimination based on race, colour, language or nationality

In laying down these principles, the aim of the Symposium was to declare that the observance of Islamic Law can guarantee human understanding and international stability. Human rights are indeed grounded in Islamic Law.

In closing, the Symposium wished all involved every success in the endeavour to serve mankind. Peace and benediction be upon the Prophet Mohammed and upon all Prophets and Apostles.

The Rome Symposium agreed the following declarations regarding Human Rights:

1. Islam is both a faith and a law (Sharia). It provides a comprehensive framework for man’s life on earth, establishing justice, protecting the dignity of man and assuring his peaceful co-existence with others.

2. The dignity of man is bequeathed by God. He is both the source of human rights and provides the benchmark by which man’s behaviour should be measured.

3. All mankind shares responsibility in trying to fulfill what is God’s will on earth. Human beings must co-operate in defining legislation, rules and charters designed to further the common good in accordance with God’s will.

4. Science and technology, on the one hand, and religion and moral values, on the other hand, must work together, ensuring the dignity of man, a safe environment and peaceful co-existence between peoples.

5. Respect of religious belief in God and living according to divine principles is a sound basis for achieving co-operation and peaceful co-existence, securing a better life for all mankind.

6. The family, founded on a legal marriage between man and woman, is a fundamental building block of a stable society. The family is responsible for the raising and education of future generations.

7. Men and women are partners in all fields of life, according to their competences. Their co-operation and respect for one another are based on values that safeguard the dignity of each.

8. The establishment of justice among all peoples, irrespective of nationality, religion, ethnicity, race or sex is a fundamental tenet of Sharia than guarantees tranquillity, stability and security for all members of society.

9. The respect of divine values and the education of future generations in accordance with a belief in Almighty God, respecting the values of human dignity, environmental safety, the inviolability of societies and mutual dialogue are fundamental in putting a halt to the rising tide of violence and terrorism in the international community.

10. Sharia views children as the basis of society and its future resource. Both the family and the state have a duty to protect and educate children, enabling them to lead an honourable and fruitful life. Muslim states are asked to adopt these principles so as to be able to cope with the tragedies to which children are unfortunately exposed on so many parts of the world.

11. Islam stands for a balanced attitude towards women. It safeguards their dignity and their rights of inheritance, ownership and education. It recognises women’s participation in the promotion of values and their important social responsibility in creating stable family life, without depriving them of their right of participation in public life, consistent with their psychological and physical characteristics. Contemporary society has tended to deal with women in a manner that has destabilised both family and social life, compelling women to enter fields in conflict with their inner nature and letting them become the first victims during times of wars and crisis. Islam provides effective solutions to enable women to play their just role in society and urges Muslim states to consider applying these remedies.

12. Islam categorically denounces international terrorism and violence, whether it be the work of individuals or of states. Islamic teaching stands against terrorism and calls for the promotion of the qualities of justice, peace and virtue that make individuals both wise and responsible and respectful of human life. Islam appeals to all mankind to fight against injustice, aggression and domination, acts that create a breeding ground for violence and terrorism.

13. Sharia encourages the individual to nurture continuously his spiritual life and develop his personal capabilities and financial resources in a manner that achieves prosperity both for himself and for society. But this prosperity must be achieved in a co-operative environment not just among individuals but also, in the international environment, among states. This co-operation contributes to the well-being and stability of the whole world.

14. The participants at the Symposium affirm their conviction, based on the papers presented and ensuing discussion, that Islam, with its divine values and principles, can contribute greatly to increased international stability, based on justice, confidence and cooperation. Islam can provide a framework for society, curing moral and social ills that are often the result of ignorance and selfishness. For instance, when Muslim nations are considered no more than a source of raw materials or cheap labour. It is incumbent on all Muslims, whether rulers or nations, to apply Sharia in all aspects of their lives, cooperating with the serious mass media to present Islam to a broad public and strengthen relations with different nations and cultures.

These actions will dispel fears and misconceptions and help mankind to achieve security and cooperation consistent with the divine principles of Islam.

Muslim World League (Rabita)

P.O. Box 537

Makkah, Saudi Arabia

e-mail address: moe@concept.net.sa

internet address: www.mwl.org.sa

Main reference point: Questions of Human Rights, 2000

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